The Glories of Gillingham
Dorset Magazine|August 2020
The Glories of Gillingham
Discover this town’s historic cottages and imposing houses built with local sandstone and red bricks, as well as the beautiful surrounding countryside
Edward Griffihs

After a destructive fire in 1694, the compact settlement of Gillingham took a long time to rebuild. As a result, this attractive Blackmore Vale town is probably the most late-Georgian and Victorian town in Dorset.

There is evidence of Neolithic and Roman settlement here. Then the Saxons arrived, it’s believed that the settlement may have taken its name from a Saxon chief called Gylla. Then, after the Normans built the first hunting lodge, King John constructed King’s Court in 1199 and hunted in the Royal Forest between 1205 and 1214. His son Henry III turned it into a ‘palace’. Salisbury and Yeovil Railway’s first train arrived in May 1859 where, standing on 90ft deep Kimmeridge Clay, Gillingham was ideally placed for manufacturing building bricks. Gillingham Pottery, Brick & Tile Company operated from 1866 until 1968.

This walk offers both a longer route taking in the countryside and a shorter town only route.


1 St Mary’s Church dates from the 14th-century but was rebuilt between 1838 and 1921. From the south gate, walk into The Square. Left of 18th-century Phoenix Hotel is Gillingham Free School which operated 1516 to 1876, now rendered with added shop front. Walk down The Square passing Phoenix Hotel’s horsecarriage entrance. Turn left into South Street. Pass single storey Old Town Lock-up, used 1760 to 1880. Left again, emerge opposite Spring Corner where Gillingham’s first well was dug 1802 at Reverend William Douglas’ expense. It was capped when the road was widened. Turn right into High Street passing 18th-century Red Lion Inn. Behind the right shops was Rope Walk where long ropes were plaited. Continue past Chantry Fields open space. Town Bridge over Shreen Water was built as Barnaby Bridge in 1800 with two semi-circular arches. John Constable sketched it whilst staying here in 1820 and 1824. The right 1960s-style shops stand where the cinema was demolished 1962.


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August 2020